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Bolsonaro year 1: Politics

. Dec 18, 2019
Bolsonaro politics Photo: Isac Nóbrega/PR Photo: Isac Nóbrega/PR

Brazil is home to the world’s most-fragmented legislature, forcing presidents to reach deals with ideologically opposed parties in order to form broad coalitions. These coalitions are often based on horse-trading, and no administration has gone by without facing corruption scandals. During the campaign, Jair Bolsonaro promised to break with “old politics,” also known in Brazil as “coalition presidentialism.”

</p> <p>He has been <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2019/07/03/bolsonaro-congress-relationship/">largely true to his words</a>, ignoring efforts to seek a ruling coalition, instead choosing to reach deals for specific bills, as was the case with the pension reform. That approach has made it more difficult for the government to whip votes on a consistent basis—and has limited the administration&#8217;s power to promote its own agenda. Even successful projects only prospered thanks to the personal efforts of <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2019/07/11/pension-reform-rodrigo-maia-power-brokers/">House Speaker Rodrigo Maia</a>, who—despite <a href="https://brazilian.report/newsletters/daily-briefing/2019/11/20/anti-poverty-agenda-rodrigo-maia-2022-election/">distancing himself from the president&#8217;s image</a>—has supported pro-market bills.</p> <p><strong>Corruption scandals. </strong>Prior to taking office, Mr. Bolsonaro faced corruption investigations within his inner circle, with his eldest son, Senator Flávio Bolsonaro, suspected of running a money-laundering ring while he served as a state lawmaker in Rio de Janeiro. The Bolsonaros tried to suppress the probe on a technicality, but a <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2019/11/29/supreme-court-ruling-spells-trouble-bolsonaro-son/">recent Supreme Court decision</a> guaranteed that won&#8217;t happen.</p> <p><strong>New party.</strong> Jair Bolsonaro joined the Social Liberal Party in 2018 for one reason: it was the only party ready to launch him as a presidential candidate. But the union didn&#8217;t last for long, with the president&#8217;s group clashing with the traditional top brass of the party for the control over campaign funds. In the end, Mr. Bolsonaro decided to leave and <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2019/11/22/jair-bolsonaro-new-party-reshuffles-brazilian-politics/">create his own far-right party,</a> the Alliance for Brazil—which has &#8220;Judeo-Christian values,&#8221; opposition to gun control, and ultra economic libertarianism as its cornerstones.</p> <p><strong>Politics of polarization. </strong>Despite being in power for a year, Jair Bolsonaro is still acting like he is on the campaign trail—with every public appearance transformed into a personal rally. He has focused on stirring up divisions, continuing to portray himself as the antithesis of Workers&#8217; Party leader Lula—who was released from prison in November. The strategy has been effective in <a href="https://brazilian.report/newsletters/weekly-report/2019/12/09/brazil-latest-privatization-plan-risk-data-privacy/">securing him the support from a core group</a> of around 20 to 25 percent of voters—but it hasn&#8217;t been enough with the broader electorate, as Mr. Bolsonaro is the least popular president in history after one year in office.</p> <p><strong>What&#8217;s to come in Brazilian politics? </strong><a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2019/10/09/elections-2020-campaigns-heating-up-brazil/">Brazil holds municipal elections in 2020</a>—and all the attention of <a href="https://veja.abril.com.br/economia/bolsonaro-e-guedes-entregam-pec-do-pacto-federativo-ao-senado/">congresspeople</a> will be devoted to their constituencies from June forward, which will make it harder for the government to pass controversial matters. Especially if the president continues with his stance of not forming a coalition. Proposals such as the overhaul of the Brazilian state, and the reduction of benefits for public servants are unlikely to pass in 2020.

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Gustavo Ribeiro

An award-winning journalist, Gustavo has extensive experience covering Brazilian politics and international affairs. He has been featured across Brazilian and French media outlets and founded The Brazilian Report in 2017. He holds a master’s degree in Political Science and Latin American studies from Panthéon-Sorbonne University in Paris.

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